Tuesday, February 15, 2011

...Watson will pwn us all...

Pay attention here kids, the next few things I am going to say are a matter of life or death. The end of the world is nigh, the first horseman of the apocalypse is riding high, and his name is Watson.

Ok so I'm exaggerating a little bit here, but lets take some time to look at what IBM hath wrought.

For those of you who don't know yet, Watson, like Deep Blue before it, is a supercomputer designed with one purpose in mind, and that is pwning human beings. And, like Deep Blue before it, it does so by playing a game of skill and intellect, Jeopardy.

Lets backtrack even further for a little while, as many of you are likely scratching your heads when I mention Deep Blue. So Deep Blue (is that getting annoying yet? I'll call it DB for short) was a computer created by IBM in 1996 to be the single best chess player in the world. In a day and age where newfangled concepts like Windows 95 and the internet were starting to get big, this marked a huge step in the world of technology. The sheer processing power required to work a computer to play chess was phenomenal. And given that this was back in the 90's (where the term "gigahertz" was spoken of in only hushed whispers and people still knew how to use DOS) that was a particularly impressive feat. But in its first match against Garry Kasparov, world champion chess extraordinaire (and SUPER DUPER NERD) Deep Blue lost. One year later, after the initial testing phases were complete (That's the excuse IBM was using for DB's loss to Kasparov) the two, DB and Kasparov that is, had a rematch. In the 6 game match, DB won 2 and Kasparov 1, with 3 draws. This might seem like a somewhat lackluster result, but you have to bear in mind that this Kasparov dude is like a chess genius. The modern day equivalent would be if you were to beat ALL OF SOUTH KOREA at starcraft 2 (in other words nearly fucking impossible). Kasparov, still tasting the sweet taste of victory from the year before, cried foul, claimed IBM was cheating and demanded a rematch. IBM, (in a classic "I'm going home and taking the ball with me" move) said no and dismantled Deep Blue.

Enter 2011. IBM is at it again. This time though, their game of choice is Jeopardy. "Oh that's stupid, you just need to link the damn think to wikipedia and it's game over" I hear many of you already saying. Well no, not quite. For one thing, many Jeopardy clues are heavily context dependent. Moreover, not all Jeopardy clues are simply definitions, nor do the questions lead to definite answers. In fact, there are many clues that involve nuance and puns. Now while puns are old hat to you and I, for a computer that is used to dealing with strict logic, being able to work flexibly and deal with the nuances of language (puns included) is an entirely new step for a computer. It not only requires the ability for strict knowledge based responses, but also nuance based responses. At first, Watson failed HARD. (In one of it's first practice matches, when asked a question about non-dairy creamer, Watson answered "milk"). But therein lies the frightening aspect of Watson. It learned. It learned from its mistakes (along with some additional algorithmic programming from the IBM team) and it's now on TV taking on two of the GREATEST Jeopardy players of all time. After the first day of play, Watson was tied for first with $5000. I didn't get to watch tonight's game, but according to my friend's twitter, after 8 minutes, Watson was up 15 GRAND on the next closest player. If that's not fucking scary, I don't know what is. Obviously the next phase for world domination will be when Watson and Facebook link up and figure out how to control the minds of EVERYONE ON THE PLANET. Skynet is real dear readers, and its name is Watson. (Asimov is rolling in his grave right now)

...And that's what I learned today.

PS For those of you who missed the game like me, the first day's match is on youtube here


  1. I was reading bits of this out loud to my mom across the hall, and she was laughing her ass off. XD

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